Heart attack and stroke victims waiting over 90 minutes for an ambulance as NHS “left out in the cold”

24 Nov 2023

Embargoed until 00.01 Monday 27 November 2023 

  • One in ten Category 2 emergencies took more than 90 minutes for an ambulance to reach the scene in October, the longest delays so far this year

  • The Liberal Democrats warn NHS “left out in the cold” in Autumn Statement despite signs of another upcoming winter crisis

  • In some regions heart attack and stroke victims left waiting two hours for an ambulance to arrive

Ambulance delays reached their worst level so far this year in October, with heart attack and stroke victims left waiting over 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, new analysis by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

The party warned that the Conservative government left the NHS “out in the cold” in this week’s Autumn Statement and is failing to prepare the health service for another winter crisis.

The latest NHS figures show that one in ten patients in Category 2 emergencies, which include heart attack and stroke victims, waited more than 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive in October. These are the worst delays so far in 2023, showing that pressure on local health services is already growing ahead of the winter months.

The NHS target of response to Category 2 emergencies within 18 minutes was missed in every region in England. Across the country patients waited an average of almost 42 minutes, more than double the target. 

The figures also reveal stark regional differences. Patients in the South West faced the worst delays, with one in ten patients in Category 2 calls waiting close to two hours for help to arrive. This is more than double the delays faced by patients in the South East Coast where one in ten waited 55 minutes for Category 2 emergencies.

The Liberal Democrats called on the government to make the NHS a key priority at the Autumn Statement, but no additional funding was announced. Instead, NHS England is facing real-terms cuts of £4.7 billion next year once inflation is taken into account.

Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care spokesperson, Daisy Cooper MP said:

“We know that a matter of minutes can make all the difference in emergencies. So it is heartbreaking to see ambulance delays are worsening and heart attack and stroke victims being left waiting hours for help to arrive.

“Jeremy Hunt left the NHS out in the cold in this week’s Autumn Statement, despite all the evidence that the health service is facing another crisis this winter.

“All the warning signs are flashing red, it’s time for Conservative ministers to come up with a proper plan to tackle these devastating delays.

“People should not have to suffer in pain any longer because this Conservative government has neglected our health service year after year.”


Notes to Editors:

The NHS data on ambulance response times for October broken down by region can be found here.

Times series NHS data on ambulance response times compared to January can be downloaded here

Ambulance emergency categorisations:

Category 1

These are injuries and illnesses that pose an immediate threat to life – in particular, cardiac arrests and serious allergic reactions – and which need immediate resuscitation and intervention to give the person the best chance of survival. They will usually be called in by someone supporting the patient. Call handlers ask three questions to establish how unwell the patient is: whether they are breathing, whether they are conscious, and what happened. Advice is provided to the person looking after the patient. UK-wide standards require ambulance services to respond to these calls within seven minutes.

Category 2

These are for serious conditions that do not pose an immediate risk to life, such as a heart attack or stroke, or for people suffering from sepsis or major burns. They require urgent assessment and rapid transportation, and should be responded to within 18 minutes. To establish whether it’s a stroke, call handlers will ask of patients: if they smile, is it equal on both sides of the mouth? Can they say “the early bird catches the worm”? Can they raise their hands above their head?

Category 3

This applies to urgent calls such as abdominal pains, the late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes. Patients will sometimes be treated in their own home. The target for services is to respond at least nine out of 10 times within 120 minutes.

Category 4

These are non-urgent calls such as diarrhoea and vomiting, urine infections and back pain. Some of these patients will be given advice over the phone or referred to another service such as a GP or pharmacist. Sometimes they are asked to wait to receive further advice by phone from a nurse or paramedic, unless their condition deteriorates. These less urgent calls should be responded to at least nine out of 10 times within 180 minutes.




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